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The morning after the indulgent dinner, we soaked one more time in the hot springs baths and met up again with Bill and Masami for breakfast.

After days of sampling countless exotic Japanese offerings, Brian and I didn’t pass up the offer of an American style breakfast.

They started us off with an onion topped salad.

And moved on to assorted breads, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and a lovely fruit plate.

  

Comforting, but downright boring compared to the Japanese breakfast.

The Japanese breakfast started with umeboshi, or pickled plums.

Which was followed up by all these dishes:

  

   

And this:

Salted and fermented squid guts.

Known as Shiokara, it’s considered an acquired taste, even to the Japanese. This morning I didn’t have the stomach to sample it.

But as you can see, we had no trouble polishing off everything else.

Stuffed again.

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When Brian and I were in Tokyo, we snuck away with our business partner, Bill, and his partner Masami, to an onsen.

An onsen is a Japanese inn and hot spring. The volcanic archipelago of islands that make up Japan are covered in naturally occurring hot springs and onsens are popular among the Japanese. They vary from simple to luxurious in accommodation.

We visited Sekiyou, an hour outside of Tokyo by way of bullet train and short taxi ride that winds up a lush mountain while monkeys watch from the roadside. A grandmotherly hostess showed us to our sparse and spacious eight tatami mat room complete with it’s own wooden soaking tub, then handed us kimonos and waited while we changed.

 

Bill and Masami gave us the low down on how the baths worked. There were two separate baths, one for men and one for women.

 

Guests always scrub up before immersing in the steamy water. Washing stations line the wall with short wooden stools and detachable sprayers.

I was thankful no one was using the bath when I, the uninitiated, entered and clumsily sprayed myself down at the washing station, not sure just how much scrubbing was expected. The hot springs bath was outdoors, surrounded by dense shrubbery but with a view of misty mountains in the background.

Soaking was lovely.

We met up with Bill and Masami in their room later for dinner, which was delivered one course at a time by a hostess in traditional formal wear. 

The menu.

First course is served to Masami and Bill.

Kanpai!

Sashimi.

Eel

Broth with clams and sugar snap peas

   

Beef with farro and fiddlehead ferns and mountain vegetable

Jellyfish and mushrooms

More.

Ending with citron gelatin and a mochi covered in roasted soybean dust.

The food was amazing. I was blown away by the detail and time and care required to prepare every single dish. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the best of notes. I’ll blame it on the unusual setting, or maybe it was the sake or shochu (a spirit distilled from rice), or beer.

Later when we returned to our room, futons were unrolled on the floor and beds made up.

Just as we started to settle in, our hostess let herself in, offering to help us get ready for bed.  We bowed in thanks and shooed her toward the door.

We considered sliding the futons together to make one bigger bed, to sleep together like we usually did. But we thought better of it. Not at the onsen.

Check back next week for details about breakfast.

Head over to Wanderfood Wednesday for more travel and food stories!

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The prep work and the dashi were finished so the chef instructor at the cooking school in Tokyo moved on to the main courses. 

First up was Braised Meat and Vegetables, Japan’s take on beef stew, which used dashi for the broth.

We moved into the kitchen to start the teriyaki chicken stuffed with asparagus, which reminded me not to complain about the small size of my kitchen (they run a cooking school and restaurant with a two burner cooktop and a portable electric burner!).

The sugars carmelized in the pan…

Sesame seeds were ground in the suribachi, Japan’s version of a mortar and pestle, for the dressing on a Spring Vegetable Salad.

And tofu was prepared two ways.

    

Brian plated the teriyaki chicken.

The final products:

Braised meat and vegetables

Teriyaki chicken and the Spring vegetable salad

Tofu with amber sauce

Tofu sauteed with asatski (Japanese chives)

And miso soup of course

Our business partner (and interpreter!), Bill, had to run to a meeting part way through our cooking school experience, leaving us suddenly verbally silenced. But through giggles and smiles and fumbled words and actions, we bonded–Brian and I with the chef instructor and his assistant. (Thanks Bill.) We all learned new words and Brian and I learned new cooking techniques and new food items, like burdock root in the miso soup and myoga (ginger flower) in the vegetable salad and asatski (the long very thin green onion) in the sauteed tofu.

Then we went upstairs to the dining room and ate all these creations.

Yum!

And sadly, we said goodbye. 

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Besides eating our way through Japan, Brian thought it would be cool to cook alongside a Japanese chef to learn some local techniques. Bill, our restaurant partner in Tokyo, found this sweet cooking school, and he came along to translate. I got to come along to admire the handiwork (another bonus of having a chef for a husband!).

They started out by making dashi, a Japanese soup stock used for making soups and as a base in vegetable, meat and fish dishes. It’s made from dried bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes and dried kelp.

The chef-instructor added kelp to the pot.

Then the bonito flakes.

While the dashi steeped,the chefs moved on to prepping for the other dishes they’d make.

Dashi is done.

 

And strained.

And ready for use. 

Dashi

7 1/2 cups water

15 grams dried kelp (konbu)

25 grams dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)

Place kelp and 6 1/2 cups water into a pot and turn heat on high. Just before it boils, take out the kelp and turn off heat.

Add  the bonito flakes and 1 cup cold water to sink the floating flakes.

Let sit 5 minutes, then strain the broth. Discard kelp and bonito flakes.

Can be refrigerated for later use for up to three days.

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Being a chef entails hovering over burners when the summertime kitchen temp is 120 degrees, working when your friends are out socializing, and being expected to gracefully receive criticism of your work from the public. 

But once in a while, being a chef has its rewards. Those rewards are even greater if you’re married to the chef.

We’re co-owners Black Bottle, a gastro tavern in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. Two of our partners live in Tokyo, considered by many to be the gastronomic capital of the world. We had to go.

With Bill and John at our sides, Brian and I spent a week eating our way through Tokyo. How lucky are we? Very.

Here’s lunch number one:

In Japan, presentation and quality are of utmost importance. Maguro (tuna), tai (snapper) and hamachi (young yellow tail or amberjack) sashimi. 

Starting in left corner, jellyfish, mentaiko (lotus root with spicy cod roe), takenoko (bamboo shoot), goma dofu with wasabi (sesame tofu), fish cake, ebi (shrimp)

Steamed rice with ikura (salmon roe) and green peas with tsukemono (pickles) on the side.

Left to right: braised tofu with ginger, pearl onion, fuki (type of mountain vegetable), kabocha (squash), grilled sliced gyuniku (beef), hijiki (type of seaweed), dashi with grated daikon

The detail that went into each item in this bento box was unbelievable. Have you ever seen such gorgeous food?

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